A Place of Desolation

This short story was inspired by a dream I had in 2012 where I was immortal and lived through technological advances, new families, the advent of the space age and more. The dream caused me to think about what it would feel like to be truly immortal. Initially, it would be viewed as gift… but it would end up a curse when all you knew — not just who, but what — fell away from you. Losing your loved ones is difficult enough, but as time marches on, there would be no trace of the very fabric of who you are. This story was written in 2012, re-discovered in 2014 and lightly edited.

I.
Winding his way through the blackness of the night, he gazed out at the glittering stars that extended all around him, each star a representative of the miracle of life. Part of all matter, stars were made up of gases and metals that coagulated together to burn brightly, a beacon in the midst of a never-ending darkness that threatened every fiber of your body with its crushing stillness.

Looking out at the universe from the safety of home, one is easily awed by all the stars and planets out there, coupled with nebulas as wide as the eye can see, black holes spinning mass into nothing, comets zooming left and right… but for all its beauty, the universe is a place of desolation.

Blackness ruled the universe. Nowhere else was the feeling of solitude so acute. Drifting out aimlessly, no destination in mind and no whisper of a wind in sight.

The stars take on a menacing glare. A twinkle of sun and fire and dreams and life, taunting mercilessly. Out there as if a light at the end of the tunnel, a twinkle of what was and is, but forever unreachable, unattainable when all around you the air was still with blackness that threatened to crush all hope out of your body.

And among the stars laid life. Life was out there, crawling among the surface of planets. Minuscule organisms, multiplying and dividing by the billions, with no idea of their purpose in life, just repeating the same actions over and over as the engine of life. Others, prowling the landscape, at the whims of the baser needs to survive: food, water and shelter. Unaware of the greater mysteries of life. Incapable of love or understanding. A biological robot, but living nonetheless, among the splendor of the world around them.

And intelligent life. Ancient civilizations racing among the stars amongst the newborn, gasping as wood erupts into fire. Killing by the millions, procreating by the billions. Each life, independent and special, born to die with a unique history in between. Full of life, laughter, love, loss, loneliness. And every one of these lives a mote of dust in a speck of time in a scintilla of the void.

Loneliness. That was the world he knew, the world that had led him to this place. Turning and turning, no end in sight, the oppressive sound of silence crushing him. Years had gone by in a flash, years that by this point were a drop in the bucket.

Loneliness gripped him every second of his aimless adventure with no destination in sight. Just the blackness of the skies, the tantalizing twinkling of stars and the utter stillness. Loneliness is an abstract concept until you find yourself in the middle of it, staring at its uncompromising brutality in the face, helpless to even stir up the most mundane distraction. It would drive anyone insane — that is, unless loneliness had already eaten every part of his soul.

He had no one in his life. They were all gone, mere wisps in the desolate landscape of time and place. Everyone he had ever known, loved, laughed and sang with, were no more. There were no more dances in the kitchen, sunlight dappling the tile. The rustling of hair swaying to the cadence of a song, the laughter bursting forward from romance and the wide-eyed anticipation of life to come. The joy at holding your own creation in your hands, to shape and mold into a living, breathing representation of yourself. The wisdom and serenity that came with age, bringing about a quiet satisfaction.

The shared experiences and understandings that bound him to everyone were gone. Not just gone, but hopelessly gone, with the remnants of what he once knew also felled by the unquenching thirst of time. No amount of money, of travelling, of seeing the sights of worlds and wonders of nature, could replace that shared connection with someone else, as he know all too well. So eventually, he had tried to take matters into his own hands.

His 10th suicide attempt had led him to this day.

II.
His first time was a few years after losing his wife.

He had once been a little boy, like everyone else. The same hopes, the same desires, the same dreams. He could remember running through a grassy plain outside his home, dancing with the butterflies, the light blue sky above stretching to what looked like the end of space above. Endless possibilities. The shy smile of a girl in school, her brown hair softly, gracefully propelled by the turn of her milky-white face, turning as her smiling eyes flicked over, connecting with his —

But he wasn’t a boy anymore. He was a man, a very old man at that, one who defied all conventions of science. Up until that fateful day, he had been just like any other man. He had married a beautiful wife and had two young children running around that gave him unbridled joy to raise.

They had lived long, plentiful and happy years. From the first moment he spotted her running in the rain to class to her last panting breath in bed, he had loved her wholly. He had loved her more than he thought possible, a love that developed and deepened over time. For a while there, he had questioned not having the sort of love that drove a man mad and was popularized in culture, but had come to realize those kind of loves were fleeting, fueled by lust and animalistic desire. The kind of love that lasts is one with a strong foundation, with mutual respect and admiration, a love sowed and allowed to bloom.

It wasn’t until his fifth decade that it became apparent his youthful boyishness wasn’t dissipating. Unlike his peers, so many of whom were starting to combat failing eyesight, balding or graying hair (or for a few unfortunates, both), slower metabolism, or a creaky body, he had shown no signs of aging. At first, it had been attributed to diet, health, exercise, genes… until finally, it couldn’t be ignored any longer. He endured a blizzard of tests, all inconclusive. No one knew the cause or when it had started. Made all the more perplexing was that he still hurt with everyone else — cut himself and he bled along with the pain that was a constant reminder of one’s mortality. Starve himself, and his stomach would send out pangs.

No one knew. The doctors marveled at him as an unnatural specimen that could change the face of humanity. He spent many years feeling like a petri dish and even survived kidnapping attempts by people who didn’t let morals get in their way of the desperation to find out the secret of an immortal fountain of youth. But he had persevered, and despite the challenges of staying young while the one you loved grew older, it had never really been a challenge. She was the one.

Shortly before she died, she had urged him to keep loving. She had given him permission to move on and knew the implications therein. It wasn’t as if she was telling her counterpart at 100 years old that he could move on, knowing he would only have a few decades at most before he, too, would be felled by time.

No, her love was immortal, and not only was he immortal, he was perpetually ageless. A tear ran down her cheek, and he held on tightly to her hand, neither confirming nor denying the permission, instead too consumed with the hopelessness that comes with wondering who else could possibly fill a void that seemed all too expansive.

When she left, he walked around in a daze for months. He tried to move on, but the hole in his heart was too much. He may be youth on the outside, but inside, he was as old as his birthdate said he was. And in his mind, he had lived a full life. He had lived a life as his biology had told him to — to have a childhood, to emerge into an adult, to have a family. To be satisfied, both personally and professionally, to watch his children produce children of their own, to enjoy the beguiling calm of old age. But now his betrothed was gone, and what laid before him wasn’t his own canvas that was beginning to run out of room to add more brush strokes of life, but rather a new canvas — a fresh one, the old one ripped off and hung up in the annals of memory, with the paintbrush poised over the white sheet of rebirth, poised to make the first slash and tell a whole new story.

Except he didn’t want a new story told, he came to realize in a startling flash of comprehension. When you get that old, the youthful ideas of immortality, of days stretching on and on to no end, enjoying the new technological marvels, whiling the night away with friends… when you get that old, you realize that immortality beckons that of a curse, not a gift. Time had washed away many friends, due to distance, both real and figurative, or death. Making new friends, new connections, forging new strong bonds at that age is hard. Harder than anything, harder to the point you just don’t want to try. No, what he wanted now was to slip beside his love in their dreams, ashes wafting up into the skies — a final jump of joy.

But that wouldn’t come, and here he stood, in the pouring rain atop a skyscraper. Just standing, looking out at the chaos of the world around him. Building piled over building, criss-crossed ad nauseam with highways, a city that never slept, a city that had millions awake and millions asleep at any point. Standing higher than any human should ever have been allowed to stand, looking at the horizon, littered with lights of civilization.

The first breath of air was inhaled by thousands in this city every moment, every morning, suffusing the sunrise with exuberance; the last exhale by the side of loved ones grieving capping the night with a melancholy song. Marriages, broken hearts, promotions, addictions, failures, successes… life was being lived, but he was tired of life, so tired.

It had been years since his love was lost, and he had fashioned some sort of life out of the pieces she left behind, but it was only an illusion – a life that was meant to ferry one to the gates of the river Styx. Not a life that stretched forever beyond him, rife with possibilities that he cast aside.

So here he stood, contemplating all this, contemplating what he could do with his immortal life. Instead of being billowed with confidence, a twinkling eye set toward the future, all he could conjure up was a deep fear. Fear of moving on from his love, and not just moving on, but falling in love with someone else. But that love was doomed to fail too, doomed to put him where he was now. You can only live for so long before you lose all hope and despair pervades every ounce of your body, he thought. Why get to that place? He had a taste of it now, and he didn’t like it. He wanted to let go, and he was going to put his immortality to the test.

He stepped off the ledge, and began his dizzying descent down, hurtling to the pits of hell cackling like a mad man, insane with the prospect of relief. Gathering momentum as he went down, all around him disappeared into a blur, and a thought flashed through his mind: Fear. Not the fear of before; not the abject loneliness he was in, not the fear of loving and losing many millennia over. No, fear of death. Fear of his story, his song, coming to an end. And in that instant, he knew he wanted to live.

III.
He dozed, the constant whinging pain of his tortured stomach and starved brain long-ago reminders that he was still human, whatever else could be said. There wasn’t much else to do. Half-asleep, memories of his life kept flitting by him, torturing him with their memories. Even having rendered himself close to immune from emotions, the lingering vestiges of what was still managed to send a small shockwave through his heart every time a new image flashed up.

He had nothing else to think of to fill the space, to occupy the time and keep these reminders at bay. There was nothing out there for him to dream about. He had experienced what were just dreams for generations upon generations of his ancestors. He had seen the impossible, had experienced the impossible. His mind was a blank canvas, unable to stop the intrusion of his seminal memories.

There was one thing he could dream about. Death. Even coming now, it would be a sweet reprieve from the curse that gripped his body, that doomed him to despair. It didn’t matter whether he was in a teeming mass of people, preparing to witness a beautiful sight. It was no different to him than the position he found himself now, unable to go anywhere, to do anything. To him, he hadn’t been able to do anything for so long, he hardly minded the circumstances he found himself in now.

He dozed. Thought about waves crashing on the beach, the setting sun hanging low in the skies, spitting out purple, red, yellow and pinks that splashed along the sky, parrying with clouds that were constantly dancing among themselves, creating beautiful murals on a soft, velvet beach that stretched as far as the eye could see, pristine and untouched except by the normal ebb and flow of nature. And at the bottom of his eyeline, as much as he tried to avoid it, he knew what was there: a single, solitary foot. Petite, with graceful curves spreading out from the ankle and ending in five little petals of roses.

That foot was connected to the one to wake him up wholly for the first time since his first wife had passed. He had been betrothed to others in the intervening years, had fathered children whose bloodlines now extended itself to all parts of civilization. He had lived. Oh, he had lived, and he had many a day of despair, too. The despair invaded his life, growing to define him even as he struggled to throw off the yoke of expectations. Could have. Should have. Would have. But what use are these words when it all ends in what was?

It had taken this one perfect little foot, connected to this one perfect little leg. The hem of her patterned yellow dress swayed in the ocean breeze, the crackling smell of the ocean and fading sunlight lending a vibrancy to a dress that bespoke a time of innocence, of wonder, of delight. Her wide smile, the dimples framing her deep blue eyes that would one day beckon suitors to drown inside of.

He was alive, finally alive again. The sea gates that had surrounded his heart, protecting against the lapping and whitewater seas of emotion had opened. The parched sand hungrily drank its full as he stood on the rocks, arms splayed and chest wide out.

He was young again, ready to tackle the world with two little legs perched on his shoulders. Prior decades became yellowed bits of paper strewn about the floor, fluttering up once in a while to remind him they had happened. But she was always there, a fresh piece of paper, clean and stark white. Taped up on the wall, colorful scribbles a beacon of hope.

His first family hadn’t met the end these crumbling bits of paper memories did, either. They rested in a framed picture, his first wife dominating the picture with her smiling face and the love that had given him the confidence to stay alive after that first attempt. But it was also that love that had driven him to more. He had come to learn that her picture, with his sons, was best viewed through glass.

But that piece of paper that had colorful bits of crayon strewed about was unprotected.

Carousel music blared once again in summer. Frigid weekend mornings in the fall beckoned. Winter storms meant hot chocolate. Rainy springs were opportunities to dance.

That’s what his daughter had meant to him.

She should have experienced all that life had to offer. The silly, invincible years of teenagehood. Her first kiss, her first love. Her first paycheck, her first child. Her first grandchild.

Going gray once more was untenable. So for his 10th try, he decided to do something radical. He would go out to the sun and melt into it. A black void joined with the very definition of life would be the answer. Nothing could stand against the boiling fires of creation. That which was dead inside would be dead outside, fueling the engines of life.

But he had forgotten he was immortal. He had forgotten that the number 10 was the number of the cosmos. The model of creation.

IV.
His eyes snapped open. He looked around, but it was the same sight he always had. And yet, something was different. It was imperceptible, but it was there. It was almost as if it was a hint of something that had yet to arrive. Then, he felt it pass over him, a small rumbling that reverberated through a body that had been starved for feeling for far too long.

He scrambled. Hurriedly pushing and pawing for his wrist, searching for his transponder. It was there, his mind frantically assured him, as it had always been there any time he had checked for it, or merely felt it embedded in his skin. There was no way it could have spilled out of its secure container and gone spinning out into the nether regions. He felt the small orb gently protruding from his skin and caressed it for a moment. Then he activated it and saw it flash red. He sagged with relief.

Then the thought occurred to him. He was relieved. He had hurried to activate his transponder. And yet nothing had changed, or would change, for him in his life. And yet, here was this small burst of hope, a ray of sunshine breaking through dark and stormy clouds, that let him know he was still alive.

But what passes for alive? To him, alive simply meant functioning. His heart was pumping blood as normal, his brain was functioning logically, but he was merely biologically alive. That was his curse, as his life had long been drained from his mind.

Suddenly, a shock wave sent him spinning uncontrollably back, pushing him faster than he had traveled in the last several centuries. Bright lights slammed into his eyes, evaporating in a starburst as he screamed from the pain, all too accustomed to the darkness that had enveloped his soul.

His momentum was arrested, jerking him to a stop suddenly. He laid there, dangling, his arms splayed out in front of him, his head lolling back, twisting away from the harsh glare of the lights. He slowly slitted one eye open, gasping as even more white light invaded him. There it was, the outline of a large behemoth that was about to take him back. Back to civilization and all that he had tried to leave behind time and time again.

The gods were unmerciful once more. It would have been better to stay out here, spinning in the black nothingness, where the outside matched the inside.

But the stars continued to twinkle. This time, instead of taunting mercilessly, they offered a new beginning.

The end of the Most Valuable Network, MVN.com

MVN

On December 31, 2003, Evan Brunell founded a Boston Red Sox blog titled Fire Brand of the American League. The same day, a friend of his founded a Pittsburgh Pirates blog. Between the two of them, it was decided to try and create a baseball blog network of all 30 teams. Titled the Most Valuable Network, it grew into the first online sports blog network, dominating the landscape for years. Evan served as co-founder and president, wearing many hats over the years and receiving ample experience in all facets of business — executive, managerial, marketing, coding, human resources, accounting, editing — anything a business does, Evan had a hand in. Unfortunately, the economy declined sharply right as a major investment was placed into MVN. The business model became unsustainable, and MVN closed its doors. Below is the open letter I penned about closing MVN.


It is with regret that I’m writing to announce that I have made the decision to close down MVN.

There are many factors that led to this decision, and thusly I will not attempt to work through all the factors and the various happenings that led to this decision. I will, instead, simply cite that the biggest motivating factor was (what else?) finances.

MVN is backed by family money. In better economic times, our investment on this end was not significant. However, the downturn of the economy has hurt us. Online ad revenue dropped at a time we were pushing to make MVN a bigger and better destination. While we were fortunate to have the resources to exist to date, we’ve arrived at the situation where further investment can no longer be justified.

From a personal standpoint, I have worked full-time pro bono for MVN for the six years of existence. Given my current position in life, this was an arrangement that could not last. I did not see potential for future earning at MVN in a time frame that would have been acceptable — or even doable — to my personal welfare.

For the past three weeks, I have been working on getting all MVN blogs a future home. I am pleased to announce that many of the blogs were found homes, either at Bloguin or Real Clear Sports. Several blogs have made the decision to either shut down themselves or go independent. In the coming days, we will be providing you a full list of where the new homes of the blogs will be.

Over the next few weeks, the writing platform at MVN will be dismantled entirely. This means that any mvn.com inbound links to archives will not work. We will provide full archives to the blogs in question for them to import to their new homes. Before January is out, the only MVN page that will exist is the front page at MVN.com, which will continue to look as it does today.

Eventually, we plan on selling the domain. At that point, unfortunately, all traces of what MVN once was will have vanished.

What will survive are the blogs, and I hope that you will continue reading them. We are immensely proud of the blogs and writers that came through MVN. A lot of influential writers got their start or their big jump on these pages. We’re honored that we could provide that opportunity for them and hope that they look back on their tenure at MVN with fondness.

I know that I can say with utter certainty that I poured my heart and soul into MVN, at the expense of personal advancement. My life for six years was building up MVN and the blogs to the point where everyone could succeed. My goal this entire time has not been about personal success. It’s been about making everyone around me successful. I have found that if you do that, you will become successful yourself — and in better ways than if you had focused on yourself from the start.

While I would love to give thanks to many people in this space, I’m afraid this note would reach Moby Dick-ian levels in an attempt not to leave anyone out, so I will simply say: You know who you are, and I hope you know the amount of gratitude I feel for you.

On December 31, 2003, I was in my senior year of high school. I was still reeling from the Red Sox losing to the Aaron Boone-led Yankees two short months earlier… and I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to make my voice known. I started a Red Sox blog, Fire Brand of the American League. A friend joined me, starting a Pirates blog. A light bulb went off over our heads, and here we are six years later.

If I had to choose a lasting legacy for MVN, it would be as early adopter of new media, to the point where MVN was a great influence in bringing sports blogs to the national mainstream of consciousness. When it got started, blogs weren’t even at the stage where it could be looked on with scorn by mainstream media. Heck, most of our early recruiting efforts came from message boards, because there weren’t enough blogs to find. (To be clear, I’m not citing MVN as the reason why sports blogs are popular — that would have happened regardless.) MVN was able to recognize early on the power of blogs, and what a network of blogs could do. Of course, to this day there are numerous sports blog networks. I remember when there was just one.

I’ll let our history and influence — whatever you think it is — speak for itself.

I’m just proud I got the opportunity to lead MVN and work with many wonderful people.

Sincerely,


Evan Brunell
Co-founder, Owner, President of Most Valuable Network, LLC

A rhetorical analysis of Captain Aubrey Daniels’ closing in the My Lai Court Martial

The below is a sample of some of Evan’s work conducted while an undergraduate in college.

“YOUR DUTY IS CLEAR”
A rhetorical analysis of Captain Aubrey Daniels’ closing in the My Lai Court Martial

On November 13, 1969, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Seymour Hersh broke the news of a catastrophe that would become the “first officially-admitted United States atrocity against civilians” (Russell 710). With the backdrop of the Vietnam War, Captain Aubrey Daniels was tasked with prosecuting the man responsible, platoon leader William Calley. Calley had murdered hundreds of innocent Vietnamese civilians despite receiving no fire or resistance. It was not an easy task, as the United States Army would have the spotlight shone brightly on them and everything they stood for: honor, pride, sacrifice, serving your country. The Army was under attack from the world for this tragedy and had to be the one responsible for bringing itself to justice.

Daniels artfully exposed Calley for the murderer he was and set about doing so while absolving the Army of any blame. By appealing to the use of rationality and emotion, Daniels was able to identify Calley as the guilty party. After accomplishing that, he was able to set Calley apart from the United States Army ideal, painting Calley as a man who did his own bidding and did so of his own will, not the Army’s. Using methods derived from rhetorical critic Kenneth Burke, one can see clearly how Daniels was able to accomplish this task.

“TORE THIS NATION APART”
The Vietnam War in the American consciousness

The Vietnam War, staged from 1959 to 1975, is the most unpopular war in the history of the United States and is also the longest war in American history (the United States did not join the war until 1965). For all its unpopularity, the United States won every battle it fought against the North Vietnamese, but did so with a toll of 60,000 American deaths with over 300,000 injured (Mintz, Introduction, War at Home), affecting countless families. The systemic murder of civilians engineered by Calley was just one part of the story, but it was perhaps the most indelible event to occur in Vietnam. Over 250,000 protesters marched in opposition of the Vietnam War in November 1969 in Washington, D.C. The war also resulted in California’s entire university system being shut down (Mintz, War at Home).

According to Stephen Mintz, the John and Rebecca Moores Professor of History at the University of Houston, “no American conflict in the 20th century so tore this nation apart, so scarred its social psyche, so embedded itself in its collective memory, and so altered the public view of institutions, government, the military, and the media” (American Culture). A generation after World War II and the atrocities the Nazis committed, Americans were about to find themselves on the other side of the coin. No longer were they good fighting evil, the ones horrified at the tragedies of the enemy. No, the tragedy would be their own and very real.

DOWN HERE ON THE GROUND, I RUN THE SHOW.”
The My Lai Incident and platoon leader William Calley

Set in My Lai, Vietnam and referred to as “Pinkville” by American troops (Hersh, Lieutenant accused), the systemic murder of no less than 109 and perhaps more than 700 Vietnamese citizens, all elderly men, women, children and babies sparked outrage across the globe. People demanded answers from the United States a generation after the country had led the war crimes tribunals and laid down many of the rules that would later form the Geneva Convention (Russell 711).

Led by Calley on March 16, 1968, the only person to be convicted at a court martial over the proceedings, the platoon burned the village and left no stone overturned, shepherding dozens of Vietnamese civilians to ditches where they were promptly pumped full of bullets or had hand grenades blow them to bits. Women were resorted to rape to attempt to save their lives and their children’s’ lives, only to be murdered after the soldier got his pleasure (Jones).

A total of three platoons took part in the My Lai incident, not just those under Calley’s watch. This called into question the validity of Captain Ernest Medina as an Army witness against Calley as Calley and several others claimed that Medina had given orders to shoot civilians. Medina has denied these accusations (Beidler). A witness recalled Medina shooting a young girl point-blank and grinning afterwards (Lief 347).

The entire company of which Calley participated in (called Charlie Company) had a bad reputation. Calley was the worst of the bunch and was constantly harassed about his ineptitude. Calley developed a mean streak and a constant desire to prove himself as no pushover:

“He was the laughing stock of Charlie Company. In the platoon, his men didn’t know whether to ignore him or kill him. He was an incompetent and a pariah, under attack from both above and below, who tried to mask his insecurities with unconvincing explosions of rage. The resultant buffoonery was further packaged back into the blustering and strutting often characteristic of the little man in the military, the proverbial shortround. Nor was any of this helped by the company commander’s unrelenting mockery of him in front of his men, who consistently heard him addressed as “young thing,” “sweetheart,” or ‘Lieutenant shithead'” (Beidler).

A helicopter pilot, Hugh Thompson, attempted to end the madness but was rebuffed by Calley, with Calley stating “Down here on the ground, I run the show” (Jones). Many of My Lai’s inhabitants that survived the massacre did so thanks to Thompson. Many, however, were at a loss as to what to do. Several soldiers broke down in tears as they committed the atrocities or refused to take part in the event. One soldier even shot himself in the foot so he wouldn’t be obligated to take part (Jones).

The incident took over a year to enter the public consciousness and only did so thanks to the efforts of a former soldier, Ronald Ridenhour, who heard stories of the incident. He persisted in bringing the matter to the attention of Congress (Russell 704). In addition, Army photographer Ron Haeberle sold the photos he had taken of the massacre to LIFE magazine which put the unflinching candids in stark color in front of the public (Jones).

The Army was caught between trying to solve the matter internally and withstanding the calls for an international investigation; a war crimes tribunal. Complicating the matter was the United States’ heavy influence in such tribunals that occurred after World War II. In accordance with the Nuremberg Trials, every man was to be held responsible for his actions and using the excuse of “following orders” was not grounds to indemnify a soldier (Russell, 705). This would come in play during the trial when Calley claimed he was just following orders of Captain Ernest Medina, something Medina and some members of the platoon contested (Lief, 345). The United States, however, did not follow its own lead started a generation earlier and granted full military and civilian immunity to Paul Meadlo, a soldier involved in the attacks. This flew in the face of the code of the Nuremberg Trials (Punishment 1315).

Sentiment in America was decidedly pro-Calley:

“Instead of dismissing Calley as a cold-blooded killer, the majority of ordinary Americans accepted his claim that he was simply a patriotic soldier, faithfully acting out his duty and viewed him as a heroic martyr (Jones).”

In addition, fellow soldiers expressed support for Calley, according to Hersh. He quoted several soldiers saying things such as “There are always some civilian casualties in a combat operation. He isn’t guilty of murder.” “There are two instances where murder is acceptable to anybody: where it is excusable and where it is justified. If Calley did shoot anybody because of the tactical situation or while in a firefight, it was either excusable or justifiable.”

In the midst of all this, Army Captain Aubrey Daniels was tasked with prosecuting Calley in the court-martial that began November 17, 1970. Daniels, as an Army officer, could not use prose to convict Calley much like Robert Jackson had done to convict the Nazis in the Nuremberg Trials. Instead, he painstakingly covered every salient point in the events that occurred and left no shred of doubt that Calley had willfully committed murder. The jury had two major things to determine. The first was if Calley was responsible for the murders and the second was if he should be exonerated on the basis that he was following orders. More pressing than the thought of following orders (as the Nuremberg Trials had invalidated them as a defense) was the concept of if these orders should have even been followed had they, in fact, been ordered. “The court held that Calley, by virtue of his age, rank, experience, and training should have known such an order was illegal and convicted him primarily on that basis” (Cockerham 1274).

Calley, found guilty of 22 murders on March 29, 1971 and sentenced to live with hard labor, quickly walked out a free man. President Richard Nixon changed the sentence to house arrest and pardoned him three years later. He later married and ran his father-in-law’s jewelry store in Columbus, Georgia where he is considered a military hero (Lief 351).

“PROSTITUTE THE TRUE MISSION OF THE UNITED STATES SOLDIER”
Rhetorical analysis of Daniels’ closing

Daniels had to juxtapose getting justice for the genocide with the dilemma of trying an American soldier. Daniels was challenged with distancing Calley from the ideal of the American soldier. Condoning the conduct of Calley would have been tantamount to idealizing the soldier as a ruthless murderer. This was a huge public relations blow for the United States, and Daniels had to save the image of the Army while at the same time tarnishing an active soldier who had served the country in the Vietnam War. Daniels needed to expose Calley for what he was and convince the jury through several modes of argument that Calley was guilty of the crimes committed against him and then effectively separate him from the Army.

In Daniels’ closing, he draws in the jury and worldwide audience effectively by utilizing enthymemes and rhetorical questions. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an enthymeme is an argument “in which one of the premises is implicit.” To take it a step further, implicit is defined as “capable of being understood from something else though unexpressed.” When constructing an argument that leads to an implicit conclusion, the audience is drawn in and involved in the argument. Instead of being told the conclusion; the reasoning behind the correct path to take, the audience comes up with the answer on their own, framing their thoughts and opinions while being influenced by the rhetor’s arguments.

He produces his first enthymeme in striking fashion, saying that Calley “came to a man that was dressed in white, a man that was described as a monk…he blew half of his head off” (Lief 354). What does a logical person, a logical soldier do when he comes across a man clearly a monk? Is his head blown off or is he accorded more respect than that? In addition, this monk was of old age, as all the men in the village were elderly (346). Daniels goes on to explain the reaction of the village to the First Platoon moving into the village: “They received no fire from that village. None.” The inference is that there was no reason to open fire and start killing, which of course, the platoon would end up doing.

Daniels had to prove that Calley had, in fact, committed the murders: the ones that he personally did and the ones that were committed by virtue of giving the order to do so. He did this through recapping the witnesses’ claims and providing an enthymeme: “[The witness] observed Lieutenant Calley and Meadlo place the people in the irrigation ditch and fire into the people, but he didn’t see the people come out” (356). Another inference, this time in a direct question, comes with Meadlo and another soldier named Jim Dursi who had similar testimonies on Calley ordering the civilians killed. Says Daniels: “And here are two men testifying to that fact, both of whom are out of the service, one of whom is from Brooklyn, New York, and the other is from Indiana. Do you think they made up something like that?” (362)

In an additional enthymeme, Daniels recollects the testimony of a soldier named Thomas Turner, in which he subtly interjects two adjectives used to describe Turner that suggest that there is every reason in the world to believe Turner is unequivocally telling the truth. Right after mentioning Turner’s name, he clarifies Turner being a married student in Nebraska. Left unexplained is that a married student is one of the most trustworthy things a man can be. Indeed, Turner is referenced to have been the witness that “brings it all together” (365). Daniels continues this pattern of inference throughout his text. He relates a witness seeing Calley conversing with a sergeant, in which the sergeant then immediately went to the ditch holding the civilians with Calley and began firing in the ditch. Despite not having any proof what the conversation is about, Daniels makes it clear to the jury there can be no debate what the conversation was about. He asks several questions, all challenging the jury to infer that the conversation was about, “at a minimum encouraging him” (377).

In addition to using enthymemes and rhetorical questions to appeal to a person’s sense of logic, Daniels plays to the emotions of the jury. By establishing Calley as a man who went off on his own, unchecked and not representing the values of an American soldier, Daniels had to then paint Calley cruelly; deserving of punishment. How does he do that? He constantly repeats the phrase “unarmed men, women, children and babies,” ensuring that the jury understands clearly that there was no resistance from any person, no cause for any person to deserve being shot. He outlines a graphic display of murdering a child by relating a story of how Calley was apprised of the fact that a child was running away. Calley threw the approximately two year old child into the ditch and shot him (354). If not emotional enough for the jury, he relates how “that baby was at the end of that barrel” (368). Near the closing argument, he ponders the question “Would the evidence have proven any infant guilty of any offense which could justify his execution?” (398)

Daniels also takes care to provide various ways of referring to death as Calley referred to it – by doing such, he allows the jury to see how callously Calley referred to committing murder of innocent civilians. Daniels attributes statements of “Take care of them,” “Waste them,” “I want them dead,” “Kill them,” “We’ve got another job to do,” to Calley. He takes care to particularly repeat the term “waste” throughout his closing, perhaps the most callous statement Calley could have made that showed his frame of mind. Daniels also conjures up the thought of inhuman execution by referring to the unarmed men, women, children and babies as “cattle,” slaughtering them (383). He evokes the ultimate sign of sacrifice – “Mothers trying to protect their children” (362).” This tugs at the jury’s heartstrings while receiving a ‘double whammy’ of symbols of inhuman execution.

Daniels ties together the concept of the negative, as advanced by rhetorical critic Kenneth Burke, with the concept of emotion. The negative is “a powerful symbolic tool human beings use to create categories of experiences.” By using certain words and messages, a division is created that isolates what a person is and what a person is not (Stoner 215). Take for example Daniels’ use of the word “cattle” to describe how Calley arranged the victims in the ditch. By referring to them as cattle, he illustrates that Calley saw and treated them as cattle – ripe for butchering. The problem is that they were human, not cattle.

Daniels uses this concept of division to point the finger at Calley for the horrors inflicted; the Army or Captain Medina was not responsible. This is where Daniels starts isolating Calley from the Army. Throughout the text, Calley is constantly referred to as the one who gave the orders or who made the commands. Not once does Daniels suggest that Calley was following orders or doing what he told. No, Calley was running the ship, even when people tried to stop him.

Unlike Robert Jackson’s closing argument in the Nuremberg trials in which he disparages the men and their positions in Hitler’s army, Daniels paints Calley as an irrational, murdering savant who disgraced the name of the United States Army. He does so in an especially scathing close to his speech. He starts out by saying:

The accused was a commissioned officer of the armed forces of this United States when he slaughtered his innocent victims in My Lai. He has attempted to absolve himself of responsibility by saying that he had his duty there, that he acted in the name of this country and the law of this nation, and I submit to you and the government submits to you that he did not and upon that question there can be no doubt.

Daniels admits right up front that Calley was a member of the United States Army. He also nods to Calley’s contention that he was only serving at the pleasure of the Army, but Daniels refutes that argument. Throughout the whole closing argument, Calley has painstakingly verified that Calley is guilty of murder and uses this ending to hammer home the point he has made all along in the artifact; Calley did not represent the United States Army:

To make that assertion is to prostitute all of the humanitarian principles for which this nation stands. It is to prostitute the true mission of the United States soldier. It has been said that the soldier, be he friendly or foe, is charged with the protection of the weak and unarmed. It is the very essence and reason for his being. When he violates this sacred trust, he not only profanes his entire cult but threatens the very fabric of international society.

These are harsh, heavy words. The word “prostitute” is especially striking, as the word evinces an image of an immoral person who sleeps with anyone possible for personal gain. By pairing together the word “prostitute” with a United States soldier, it is made extremely clear that those reflect two conflicting ideals. Daniels also cites the honored tradition of a soldier protecting “the weak and unarmed,” and goes so far as to say that this is the sole reason a soldier exists; not for war, but for protection of “the weak and the unarmed.” Daniels goes on to rephrase the “prostitute” argument in a different way, alleging that Calley’s actions was a direct insult to his “cult,” which can be taken one of two ways: the cult of America or the cult of the Army. He addresses the world’s outrage by referencing international society by decreeing that the world’s very survival is dependent on ensuring that soldiers of armies act honorably. With the atrocities of the Nazis a generation ago and then an American soldier joining these Nazis in infamy, Daniels used this stage to send a message to all countries of the world; the actions of the Nazis were unacceptable, and the actions of Calley ranked right up there to the point that his own Army was willing to blight him in such a way. No future incidents would be treated any less harshly. Daniels then wraps up:

The traditions of fighting men are long and honorable. They are based upon the noblest of human faith, sacrifice. … When the accused put on the uniform of an American soldier and took the oath of allegiance to this country, he was not relieved of his conscience… He was not given a license to slaughter unarmed men, women and children on his own personal supposition that they were the enemy…This accused has failed in his duty as an officer (Leif 399, 400).

By bringing up the oath of allegiance, Daniels has put a great burden on Calley’s shoulders, the shoulders of any soldier, for that matter. He is now an agent, a representative of the country and cannot just blindly follow orders (if there were even orders); a conscience has to come into play. By also dangling the nugget that every other soldier was implied to have been participated in “the noblest of human faith, sacrifice,” he divides Calley into the outcast who is certainly far from noble

Daniels effectively isolated Calley from the United States Army, absolving the Army of any wrongdoing. He holds Calley, and Calley alone, responsible for the murders even though no other soldier, following Calley’s orders, was convicted in accordance with the Nuremberg laws. All of his arguments point to one thing: Calley was of sound mental clarity and possessed the intent to kill and did indeed kill unresisting, unarmed men, women, children and babies. “Your duty is clear,” Daniels said to the jury. “…Find the accused guilty as charged” (400).

“NO COMPROMISE”
The aftermath

Aubrey Daniels faced a hard road in prosecuting Calley. Jury selection took three days with 25 officers dismissed due to being pro-Calley and anti-Army (Stoner, 348). He faced a country who defended Calley’s actions and called him a national hero while at the same time outraged at the fact the Americans were being sent abroad to war. He faced being called an enemy by America and the soldiers in the Army. He was also subject to international criticism at the hands of people who felt that despite their prosecution of Calley, America was sheltering its Army.

With Medina serving as a witness and getting off scot-free despite leading the company and reportedly participating in the murders along with other participants (such as Meadlo) not being charged for their crimes is one of the many flaws of the trial and caused outrage on an international scale and led people to wonder if the effectiveness of the court-martial at the hands of the United States would serve as a deterrent; that only bringing in international law would serve as a deterrent (Russell, 706-7). Indeed, the later incidents at Abu Ghraib and Haditha at the hands of the United States Army in the Iraq War would suggest Kent Russell, author of “My Lai Massacre: The Need for an International Investigation,” was correct when he said that “it would seem that individual prosecutions alone will not effectively deter United States soldiers from committing further atrocities” (706).

At a relatively young age, 29, Daniels had to stave off the media attention the case brought and focus on the task at hand. That task included helming the largest trial in army history, consisting of over 100 witnesses. Daniels capped off the exhausting process with a three-hour closing argument just explored.

When Calley was later placed under house arrest, Daniels wrote a letter of protest to then-President Richard Nixon. In it, he says that that decision gave “credence to those who believed that Calley and his troops were merely ‘killing the enemy'” and that Nixon “should and would stand fully behind the law of this land on a moral issue about which there can be no compromise.”

Daniels used several relevant techniques to distance the Army from the catastrophe that Calley had engineered. He painted Calley as a vicious murderer who showed no remorse for his actions, a man who abused the privilege and power of being a United States soldier. He used the concepts of pathos and logos to convince the jury of Calley’s peers that Calley was in fact, guilty and then harshly rebuked Calley as a representative of the United States by using the Burkean concept of division. Given an impartial jury, he engineered a resounding victory. Unfortunately, Calley would shamefully escape the throes of the law thanks to public perception that Calley was a hero, when, in fact, Calley was a villain.

WORKS CITED

Beidler, Philip D. “Calley’s Ghost.” The Virginia Quarterly Review Winter 2003: 30-50.

<http://www.vqronline.org/articles/2003/winter/beidler-calleys-ghost/>.

Cockerham, William C., and Lawrence E. Cohen. “Obedience to Orders: Issues of Morality and

Legality in Combat among U.S. Army Paratroopers .” Special Forces. 4th ed. Vol. 58.

University of North Carolina P. 1272-288. JSTOR. June 1980.

Hersh, Seymour M. “Lieutenant Accused of Murdering 109 Civilians” “Hamlet Attack Called

‘Point-Blank Murder.'” “Ex-GI Tells of Killing Civilians at Pinkville” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 13, 20, 25 Nov. 1969. Candide’s Notebooks. <http://www.pierretristam.com/Bobst/library/wf-200.htm&gt;.

Jones, David. “FOUND: THE MY LAI MONSTER OF MASSACRE.” London Daily Mail 6

Oct. 2007: 50. Academic. Lexis Nexis. Keyword: My Lai.

Lief, Michael S., H. Mitchell Caldwell, and Ben Bycel, eds. “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie, and

My Lai.” Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury : Greatest Closing Arguments in Modern Law. By Michael S. Lief, H. Mitchell Caldwell and Ben Bycel. New York: Simon & Schuster, Limited, 2000. 345-400.

Mintz, S. (2007). The Vietnam War. Digital History. University of Houston.

< http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu>

“Punishment for War Crimes: Duty: Or Discretion?” Michigan Law Review. Vol. 69, No. 7.

The Michigan Law Review Association. 1312-1346. JSTOR. June 1971.

Russell, Kent A. “My Lai Massacre: The Need for an International Investigation.” California

Law Review. Vol. 58, No. 3. California Law Review, Inc. 703-729. JSTOR. May 1970.

Stoner, Mark and Sally Perkins. Making Sense of Messages: A Critical Apprenticeship on

Rhetorical Criticism. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

Reflections of relational, situational and change leadership

bschmove
bschmove – Flickr

THOUGHTS OF LEADERSHIP

Throughout my tenure as heading up an independent sports media organization (MVN.com), I have constantly had to adjust my notion of thinking of how to lead an organization. The readings (specifically Creating Leaderful Organizations by Joseph A. Raelin and Exploring Leadership by Susan Komives, Nance Lucas and Timothy McMahon) I have done have not necessarily changed my concept of leadership, but they have strengthened my ideas and given me additional ideas to build upon.

Prior to entering those readings, I was of the mindset that the situational model was the best form of leadership to follow. Several other valued aspects of leadership that I have learned is the idea of power being shared back and forth; the value in employees/colleagues feeling as of they are a part of the company and the decision process therein; the value of creating “intradepenence,” as opposed to interdependence; and knowing and understanding the five phases of positive response to change.

One primary form of leadership that Exploring Leadership relies on is relational leadership.

RELATIONAL LEADERSHIP

One aspect of relational leadership is the absence of authoritarian power; power is given to the leader by his or her colleagues. There are many different types of power, ranging from expert to legitimate, but the theory holds that all types of effective leadership can be drawn to one effective tool: the colleagues “assigning” power to the leader.

Some very salient points are brought up in this manner, but the model glosses over too quickly on legitimate leadership. Whether or not a dissatisfied colleague likes it or not, he or she either has to follow the lead of the boss or quit. To be sure, if too many competent employees quit, the onus is on the boss to change course or to be fired.

Nonetheless, for the most part, legitimate leadership is a motivating tool in corporate America that I daresay is a large reason for how leaders are created. There are certainly born leaders, but there are also created leaders, and most created leaders who then go on to be viewed as a model for leadership were assigned legitimate leadership at first and then learned what it means to be a leader; what tactics to take and not take, what tone of voice in what situation to use… essentially, the created leader succeeds because of adaptability.

The relational model is a good one to follow, reasoning that the more power you give away, the more you will get – your own voice will be increased in value if the listeners feel they have increased power as well. They are more comfortable in speaking out; they are more willing to listen. But it disregards the benefit of legitimate leadership altogether, and sometimes people need power to transform themselves. The popular notion is that power is corruption, but it can also be a means towards leadership.

SITUATIONAL LEADERSHIP

I am a proponent of situational leadership. As Raelin says, “since the multifaceted, dynamic organizations of the modern era require nimble and behaviorally complex managers, leaderful managers are needed to perform a variety of leadership functions and vary them with the situations that they encounter.”

Prior to the Raelin book, I had learned and experienced situational leadership, but I had not been able to put it so succinctly into words that Raelin has been able to. Exploring Leadership has documented that situational contingency leadership was popular in the 1950s and ‘60s. Since then, leadership has evolved to influence, reciprocal and the current chaos leadership. Reading over the major assumptions and criticism for situational, influence, reciprocal and chaos makes me question whether or not we really have moved on from situational and the following iterations are just situational leadership in different packaging.

Take the major criticism of situational leadership: “Most contingency theories are ambiguous, making it difficult to formulate specific, testable proportions. Theories lack accurate measures.”

I fail to see how this is a major criticism when it is the very foundation that situational leadership is built on. Of course it’s ambiguous! It varies from person to person and there is no set rule of how to act or set tenet to follow. It’s meant to be ambiguous and flexible, molding a person into a leader that can effectively work with multi-varied personalities.

Take the assumptions of the influence, reciprocal and chaos approaches, respectively: “Leadership is an influence or social exchange process, Leadership is a shared process, Attempts to describe leadership within a context of a complex, rapidly changing world.”

What of these couldn’t apply to situational leadership? None.

CHANGE

In a business, change occurs rapidly, both foreseen and unforeseen. The Social Change Model in Exploring Leadership introduces key elements of both positive and negative change in an ability to reflect and react to the stages that people go through.

Negative change starts with stability, the status quo. Negative change is then implemented, which is greeted with shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and finally, acceptance – the latter of which may convert the person into believing it is positive change but at the very least allows the person a form of stability to rely on.

Positive change occurs with uninformed optimism, informed pessimism, hopeful realism, informed optimism and completion. I will now briefly run through each stage as it correlated with the new platform and my feelings which is slated to launch October 15, the phases of change which I could remarkably identify with:

  • Uninformed optimism causes excitement in a new project, one that sounds fantastic and could be game-changing. When the concept of MVN’s new iteration was broached, there was widespread excitement without having gone into the nitty-gritty of it.
  • Informed pessimism came in the focus of the preliminary discussions and budget concerns. Amid rising prices, hard realities and new concepts (which evoked its own subset of positive and negative change), the platform had to be tweaked and while there was still excitement in the project, it was tempered.
  • Hopeful realism came about on the building of the project and all the positives that could be derived from the project. It quickly became abundantly clear that even if consumers did not respond with as much enthusiasm as we “in the know” did, it was an improvement on the current MVN regardless, which made the project worth it.
  • Informed optimism occurred not too long ago. The project looks excellent, people who have seen the new platform are stoked and we are ready to catch the world by storm.
  • Completion is the final stage of positive change, and we are in the final stages of preparing for launch; making sure everyone is on the same page, making sure the Web site is prepared for the launch.

CONCLUSION

One of my favorite tools to evaluate my leadership is to conduct surveys, often anonymous, with people who can offer feedback on my leadership skills and strategies.  Garnering feedback from those with constant contact with myself can be invaluable and also a form of sharing power with employees (or colleagues, as I prefer to put it) who then feel that they can help shape my leadership and my actions therein to sustain a positive environment for all.

My personal model of leadership can best be described as situational leadership, but borrowing from many other tenets of leadership. There is not just one form of leadership that should be the end-all, be-all. Leadership is constantly changing, permeable and malleable and to allow oneself to conform to one model of leadership is to limit one’s abilities to be a successful leader.

The use of media to evoke sympathy for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict

The below is a sample of some of Evan’s work conducted while an undergraduate in college.

The year 1948 was a pivotal year for the Middle East as it gave one disenfranchised population (the Jewish) a long-coveted homeland while relegating the inhabitants of said homeland into a smaller, partitioned state that quickly was militarily occupied by the Jewish army after the Arab neighbors of the homeland attacked.

Since then, the Jewish people of the homeland termed Israel have gone from the oppressed and persecuted against for thousands of years to the oppressors, adamantly refusing to give up (rightly) its land it worked so hard to obtain but not sympathizing with the plight of the refugee Palestinians despite a curiously similar parallel to the Palestinian plight.

The sensitive issues that have plagued this region for 60 years have increasingly become focused in the lens of the world as violence escalates and a solution remains tantalizingly close but never consummated.

Gaza Strip, by James Longley, presents a harrowing description of life as a Palestinian youth, shuttered away in the Gaza Strip. Remaining as an impartial observer, the camera documents conditions that Americans would not stand for in their own land and uses the children that it focuses on to strike at the heart of the emotions of the reader.

By using this child to confront “grown-up” issues, the viewer is compelled to watch how the future, or lack thereof, of Palestinian youths is being played out. Youths drop out of school to support their family, risk their lives to throw stones of no importance other than a declaration of their outrage and dream of death, for the life they are living is not life at all.

The sense of the documentary is not one of bias despite the lack of Israeli representation in defending their actions. The director of the documentary does not concern himself with political ideologies or opinion. Rather, the focus of the film is to allow the viewer to experience what the Palestinians have had to endure since “The Catastrophe” of 1948. While the documentary never directly addresses the Nakba, it is referred to as the agent of what has caused the suffering of the Palestinians.

Does the documentary attempt to engage our sympathy for the Nakba? Not so much as it attempts to engage our sympathy for the present-day Palestinian plight and the implicit plea to find a solution for peace. However, all of this stems from the Nakba, and one is forced to wonder if the War of ’48 was indeed a victory. To be sure, it was a victory for Israelis, but was it a victory for the world?

Exodus says yes. Starring Paul Newman, Exodus is the story of the founding of the state of Israel. It documents the yearning to throw off the British rule and find a homeland where they can rule themselves. It shows the different avenues the Jewish take to achieve said goal and essentially ignores the Palestine question to focus on the Jewish plight.

The War for Independence is framed in the light of necessity, of earning what is their right and defending it at all costs. The Palestinians are irrelevant to the Jewish and draws the viewer in to identify with their plight and disregard the opposition – much like Gaza Strip does for the other side.

Exodus does not attempt to draw the viewer in identifying with youth and their bleak outlook on life. Rather, Exodus uses the tool of determined adults intent on providing themselves and their children a bright outlook. Gaza Strip used pessimism to make the point, Exodus used optimism. It’s a logical difference given the situation of each nationality, but it is done with the same sense of wrongdoing. The Jewish were wronged by World War II and need a homeland to call their own. The Palestinians were wronged by being expelled from their homeland and call for a right of return.

The Lemon Tree, a book penned by Sandy Tolan, brings the two obstacles together in a detached, historical telling of the conflict in the Middle East. The book begins by showing us how the Palestinians were set in their land and how the Jewish were oppressed and persecuted against by the Hitler regime.

Through a series of events, again recounted with no bias, the state of Israel is founded and the Palestinians are expelled. The author presents the facts on the backdrop of a Palestinian hell-bent on the right of return visiting the house he was expelled from as a young child. The book recounts the history of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict while retelling the story of the Palestinian and the Israeli he encounters living in his house.

While the beginning of the book makes obvious the need for a homeland for the Jewish, the emotional story plays out on the side of the Palestinian. It is the Palestinians that were wronged for much of the book; it is the main character, Bashir, that gets the most attention, and the Israelis who come across as the oppressors after having been the oppressed and fighting for their lives in the War of Independence.

While Tolan tries hard to maintain as neutral as possible, the dynamics surrounding the issue play out with Bashir commanding our attention and identification, while the Israeli, Dalia, wanders throughout the book frightened for the future of Israel. The only emotion evoked on behalf of the Israelis in the book come in the beginning, where  Dalia’s parents narrowly escape being sent to a concentration camp. After that, the emotional pendulum swings to the Palestinians where it remains. While logical because the Israel/Palestinian conflict started because of the founding of Israel, it nonetheless gives off the vibe that a solution must be reached that satisfies the Palestinians.

Tolan does, however, imply that what the more steadfast Palestinians, like Bashir, require as a solution is unacceptable – the removal of Israel as a state and every Jew that arrived post-1917 being expelled from the region. In the end, the book forces the reader to believe that the War of ’48 was a negative experience for it oppressed the Palestinians and expelled them from the little land they had.

The War of ’48 is presented more as a loss for the Palestinians than a victory for the Israelis because the Israelis are portrayed as being the attackers in the situation while the Arabs purportedly had no intention of going to war. While Tolan does his best to stick to the facts, the facts that create the Israeli/Palestinian conflict combined with the dynamics of the relationship Bashir holds with Dalia engender the War of ’48 to be seen more as a catastrophe than a war for independence.

The War of ’48 continues to plague the region to this day, and Israel is seemingly intent on not giving back any land and forcing Palestinians to live in poverty. No wonder it is a “Catastrophe” for the Palestinians. The challenge is juxtaposing the Nakba alongside the view of the Israelis – the war was establishing their independence, their homeland, their freedom from persecution.

How to create and monetize an effective blog

Creating and monetizing your blog can be a daunting process, but if done correctly, will not only bring you in a good stream of money, but it will improve your blog to your readers too!

There are many ways to monetize your blog (just search “ways to monetize blog”) and you’ll get vast number of hits, even a site that claims to have 101 ways to do so. I’m not going to even try to beat 101 ways, but I’m going to lay the groundwork for you so you know how to go about fattening your wallet — but not at the expense of creating a viable blog, of course. You should start a blog if it’s about passion and love for what it is you want to do. Not to make money.

Why should you listen to me? Because I have almost five years experience with blogging. I jumped into blogging before it exploded and have a lot of experience with it. I own and operate MVN.com, an independent sports media Web site and have experience with the business side of blogging therein. I offer the following for your knowledge, should you choose to accept it.

First, the content is key.

You cannot bolster traffic (traffic begets advertisements) if you do not follow several key tenets of bloggers. You must have proper spelling and grammar, of course. Get an editor if you have to. Write consistently and give your readers an opportunity to expect new content on your site when they hit it. Don’t let them cross their fingers and hope for new content. Let them expect it. Whether that’s daily, multiple posts a day or every other day, be consistent. You need to have a clear idea of what your blog is. Yes, you know the topic, but what’s your voice? Are you analytic? Humorous? Newsy? Opinionated? Find a voice and stick with it. Compel your readers to comment by constantly asking questions and challenging their thought process, then respond to these comments.

Keep your articles short and sweet. This is the internet age, and trust me: no one will stick around to read an article that makes you scroll the page ad infinitum. A good rule of thumb is to stick to about two to three scrolls, and that’s assuming that your blog section isn’t from one end of the screen to the other. Break your paragraphs up, it’s far easier on the eyes and makes the content more digestible. Long paragraphs equal readers leaving. Oh, and it helps to be controversial. Should you be controversial all the time? That’s up to you. But the occasional controversial article will bring traffic and comments in droves.

Lastly, photos, photos, photos. You need to live and breathe photos. There is a reason newspapers use photos, and no, we’re not talking about the seminal photos. We’re talking ones that couldn’t matter less, the ones shoved deep in the paper that’s a headshot of some person you will never meet or care about. It’s about breaking up content. It’s about giving the reader’s eye a visual key and a way to identify with the article in question. If you’re not a believer in photos, then you’re not a believer in making your blog the most attractive — and by not making it the most attractive, you’re turning down money. And photos are incredibly easy to come by. For one, Flickr allows you to search for photos which can be used with proper attribution in their advanced search. There’s an application called PicApp that gives you actual photos from the AP, Getty, et. al and the way they are able to give it to you is because with each photo comes an advertisement that they make money on. It is extremely simple to find a photo and to put it on your blog that it’s heretical if you do not.

If you do all of the above, the readers will come. And with readers? Advertisers. But not so fast… we need to get you a community too.

Second, build your community.

One huge benefit of being part of a blog network is that you almost instantly get a community. That’s good. But how can you get more? And for those just starting on their own, how can you even get any? The answer lies in the word “proactive.” Go chase down other blogs that have similar content (your “competitors,” if you will) and ask them to exchange links. This will get the writers aware of your blog, and they may choose to make your blog a place to stop by. Remember, first impressions are key. When you e-mail them and ask to exchange links, they will visit your site. Make sure your site is presentable and has consistent content. Again, readers and bloggers alike will stop coming to your blog if you don’t blog consistently.

Another thing to do is to leave comments on other blogs with a lot of traffic or even message boards, and always putting a link to your blog as part of your signature. Don’t leave comments saying things like “Yeah, I talked about it on my blog. Here it is.” And then leaving. Be a part of the discussion. Engage. Inquiring minds will want to know more about you, so they’ll click through. You can also ask other bloggers if you can place a guest column on their site, do a question and answer session, participate in a roundtable… the choices are endless. Blogging is a very open community. While you are certainly competition, it is a friendly rivalry and everyone is interested in helping each other out. Why did you start blogging? Your team was your passion and you wanted to share it. They’re the same way.

Now you have your community… which will be the people clicking on your advertisements.

Again, though, there’s one more step…

Third, make your blog attractive to advertisers.

You will quickly learn that the word “PageRank” is what advertisers eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and any other imaginable deal in between. To be honest, most (text) advertisers couldn’t care less about readers clicking through and actually using their product. Sure, that’s always nice. But the link is where they put their money, because the link has huge implications in search engines. The more a Web site is linked to, the higher up the search results page they climb and the higher the page rank is, which means the more chance a reader searching for their product will click on them. So you want to optimize your search engine ranking (Search Engine Optimization). How can you do that? Follow the three-hit rule. Your blog should have a unique name and that name should be reflected in your domain and your summary of the team. Head over to Google and type in “apple.” What comes up? No, not the fruit. Apple.com comes up. That’s hit No. 1. The title is simply “Apple.” That’s hit No. 2. And hit No. 3 is that the word “apple” is in their summary three times. Make your blog have a unique name, make that name reflected in the domain, and refer to your blog constantly by that name. Someone who comes across your blog but can’t remember how to get there can just google your blog name in the search engines and boom — they’ve got it. You’d be surprised how many readers you get this way.

As for PageRank, the more you are linked to, the more traffic you have, the more cachet you have. The higher the PageRank, the higher advertisers are willing to pay to get on that page. 6 is fantastic. 4 is good. Anything less… well, get going! Web sites with higher PageRank cause search engines to pay more attention to where those sites link to. There is one drawback, though: Google is very aware of the way advertisers try to manipulate the system, so if they “recognize” that the outgoing links on your page are text links, your PageRank takes a hit. Your PR takes a hit, your wallet takes a hit. So what can you do? Well, you could add a “nofollow” tag — that tells the search engines not to pay attention to these links — but then the advertisers will leave you entirely. It’s a rock and a hard place. You can’t win either way, so just take the money and run.

Blogging Librarian, Flickr

Okay, now we’re ready to talk about the principal ways to advertise.

Lastly, get the advertisements.

This is actually, believe it or not, the easiest step.

The easiest and fastest way to get advertisements is text advertisements. For the most part, these people will come to you. But for a blog striking out on your own with no significant traffic or content, it’s best to hold off until you build it up. The companies that deal in text link advertisements (99 percent of which are ticket brokers, the other 0.9 percent are sports gambling sites) will find you. You can also go find them by going to virtually any blog and looking for their text links. Click through and then find a contact e-mail on that site and make your pitch. They give you money, you slap an advertisement on the page. It takes minutes, it’s inobtrusive, and to you, it’s basically free money. Another type of text advertisements is Google Adsense, which is by far the best option for you to pursue.

I can’t stress enough that you go after text advertisements. As I mentioned, you can just go to virtually any blog page and find the section devoted to text links (of mostly ticket brokers) and e-mail them asking if they would like to advertise. It’s a good source of cash that requires minimal time investment past the first big batch of e-mails you send out. They pay in a lump sum.

Adsense is your best friend (if not fickle, though). It requires no maintenance and you can decide where it goes and how it looks. It’s a constant stream of income that only requires you to sign up and put the code in and then get a check in the mail every month. One pitfall is that Google is extremely stringent about fraud, so if you click on your own links (yes, even if you want the product) or they detect someone clicking on the links many times to drive up revenue, you’re done. They’ll cut you off and never let you back on. It’s a one-and-done program, so proceed with caution. Adsense pays per impression (page load) and click. You get more money if someone clicks on the link, but relying on traffic alone with zero clicks will still bring it in.

You can also put in display advertisements (all those fancy flash advertisements that appear on all the big sites) simply by… signing up. There are many different companies out there that will give you their product: Advertisements.com, SpecificMedia.com, the list goes on. I can help with contacts or you can strike out on your own.

You can also sign up for BlogAds, which are similar to what graphic ads are, except they are at a much more grassroots level, are more inobtrusive and allow you to set the pricing. You can also sign up for Google AdSense or any competing product therein (Chitka, Yahoo Search Marketing, etc.) and run text/image advertisements on your page which you are paid through the number of pageviews you get.

BlogAds is not worth the time. It is more maintenance than Adsense and you can’t really go out and sell through BlogAds as hard as you could otherwise. You’re at the whim of if an advertiser chooses to advertise on BlogAds, and a lot of times you will just have an empty BlogAds slot sitting in a prime spot — and it has to be in a prime spot, otherwise you won’t get any ads at all. It’s a crapshoot, and it’s not worth the constant prime location it would command. There are sites out there that succeed tremendously through BlogAds, but you have to be the right fit for it. They also pay a lump sum, so like text advertising (and unlike Adsense) it is not performance based. Although, they will leave and leave you without advertising if they’re not seeing good conversion rates, unlike Adsense, which will never leave you.

You can also sign up for affiliate programs, which I’m generally not a big fan of because you have to cross your fingers and hope for the best. Revenue is not guaranteed as it is rare that a consumer will buy based on an advertisement on your blog, so they get tons of facetime. However, this is another option and is popular with a lot of companies so you can sign up for those — but be warned, all these images and links to affiliates will only make the signal to noise radio that much worse and destroy the aesthetics of your blog. That being said, there are some great affiliate programs out there and the best is probably Amazon‘s, where you can insert a link to the product in question you are referring to on Amazon and if they end up buying something on Amazon through you, you get money. All it requires you to do is to link the product whenever you mention it at any time you please (or never at all).

Only get affiliate programs where you’re guaranteed revenue. Don’t go for affiliate programs from some obscure company (such as shoe, ticket, flight, general apparel companies, for example) that pays out low percentages. Go for highly targeted, niche programs that will bring you back revenue. A clothing store dedicated to the team you cover that pay out a healthy amount of percentage (and the healthy amount of percentage is subjective) and it will likely be useful space of advertising.

Some other ideas for advertising:

  • Donations. Every year, you can run a donation drive centered around a specific event or to help keep the blog going. You could split it with a charity or keep the take, as long as the readers know exactly what you’re paying for. This usually only works best for blogs with high traffic.
  • Apparel advertising. An example can be found at Cafepress.com. You can put your blog logo, any type of art, saying, etc. on pretty much any type of apparel imaginable and charge a small overhead for your readers. It does require some minimal skill at working with logos and images, but if you can’t do it, chances are one of your friends can.
  • Local advertising. Call up local potential advertisers: a local, grassroots souvenir shop, a food vendor at a sports park, anything that deals with your general theme of blog and discuss possible advertising or partnerships.

Again, the primary focus of blogging should be about passion. You should genuinely want to blog about the topic you have chosen and take pleasure in sharing your thoughts with the world. Advertising should be a way to supplement and enhance your blogging experience, but you shouldn’t use it to justify blogging. If you remove money from the equation, would you keep blogging? I hope the answer is yes. If not, you might want to re-evaluate if you really want to do this. It will show in your blogging and readers will catch on.

The above are principles and practices I have learned during my times blogging. I hope they are of use to you. Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you’d like to ask me some questions!

Five steps to running an independent media platform

A couple of months ago, I mentioned that I attended a New England Press Association seminar called Rebooting the Web. I addressed some notes from the seminar and expounded on my thoughts therein. Now I bring another byproduct of the seminar. A speaker (sorry, name escapes me at the moment) mentioned five steps to running a platform. I’ve adapted those steps to running an independent media platform (except one, which we’ll get to). These steps were designed for interactivity on a newspaper but can easily be applied to independent/social media.

Keep in mind that most of the people in attendance hailed from newspapers and the like and the seminar was geared to promoting social content on the Web site. The five steps to doing so are important to everyone and rather simplistic to model.

1. Identify your audience and objectives (“What do you want them to do?”)

The crux of every blog created or social platform is the identifying of your audience. When I created Fire Brand of the American League, I did so with several objectives in mind. First was to have this Web site be a haven for Red Sox fans to find intellectual and engaging content. Second was to offer a unique voice, and third was to have the Web site to be perceived as an informative and opinionated resource for Red Sox fans. I have succeeded on all three levels. That is what makes Fire Brand successful to this day, and there is no other Red Sox blog that has been able to match Fire Brand in the demographic I have assigned it. (There are, however, several other fantastic Red Sox bloggers that I read that do an excellent job in matching the demographics they build around.)

The second aspect was to define what I wanted readers to do. In the old model, I wanted them to come to Fire Brand, read our take on the Red Sox and then provide feedback. We are still stuck in this model for now, but we’re making strides towards a new model where I will be able to make readers part of the Fire Brand fabric, not part of the Fire Brand commenters fabric. More on this later.

2. Consider different technology models

MVN, since it’s advent, has been housed on WordPress. It made the switch to WordPress MU a year ago, which has been a godsend. While WordPress has allowed us to do many things and I am a fan of it (as evidenced by it being my blogging tool here) it has also become sadly outdated for what MVN needs in its next platform, which we in the know call MVN 3.0. (The current MVN is known as 2.0, or 2.5 if you factor in recent design tweaks, and the former MVN on mostvaluablenetwork.com is known as 1.0.)

Our Content Director and Web Administrator went through many different prospectives for a new platform, and it seemed as if the “best” platform shifted every day. Finally, however, the most cost-efficient platform was settled on. While it did represent a small shift in how we envisioned 3.0, I sit here today thinking that this paradigm-shift was for the best.

If we had been unwilling to recalibrate the idea we had in mind for MVN 3.0, we would have not chosen the platform we did — Moveable Type Community Solution. We would have gone for a more expensive platform that would have given us what we thought we wanted, and in the end, would have been worse off for the wear. As you explore various platforms to deliver your content, please try to keep in mind that not only does the content make the platform, but the platform makes the content. Don’t hesitate to adapt your thinking if necessitated. Life is about change, as much as we all hate it.

3. Assign people to moderate

This is something that is a bit underutilized on MVN as is and I suspect will continue to be on 3.0, but it is something that newspapers swear by. Comments on MVN (and most competitors) are allowed to run amok with very loose guidelines. Compare that to a newspaper which has very stringent guidelines and are constantly moderating comments. On MVN, we may not reach double figures in deleting comments the entire year, but double figures are easily reached each day at the newspaper I currently work for, The Patriot Ledger.

I am not knocking either MVN or the Ledger; the two come from different business models and points of origin, but assigning people to moderate only depends on a) if you feel you need moderation and b) what should be moderated. Right now, MVN does not need a moderator — it deals with comments as they are brought to attention while newspapers regularly screen comments before allowing them to go live. As MVN grows and develops into the new platform, moderators will undoubtedly be needed to keep tabs on both comments and user blogs, but I very much doubt MVN will ever reach the screening phase. Case in point is ESPN.com, which has hundreds of thousands of comments a day, and I very much doubt they have someone moderating each and every comment (although I profess no knowledge).

In the end, however, some sort of moderation is needed on every social media platform. Earlier, I mentioned that MVN does not moderate comments too much. However, what we do do is make sure that the profanity policy and other MVN policies remain in effect for writers. These policies will largely still exist on MVN 3.0 although only targeted towards specific people. For now, however, these polices exist all across MVN and we need to ensure that the product we deliver is in accordance with this policies.

As with any endeavor, regular maintenance is essential to success.

4. Get people to participate

Earlier, I mentioned that I had started pushing Fire Brand to a more involved type of Web site rather than a site where people come to read and leave. I am pushing Fire Brand to be a site of community, where people can come engage in discussion on the Sox. Some things I have implemented:

  • For a long time now (over a year) we have had polls, which continue to rise in popularity. I ran a test in which I put up polls but did not put up an article with results; put up polls with an article with just results; and polls with an article with results and reaction. The latter idea got the most reaction, response, discourse, and more voters on future polls. Gee, I wonder why.
  • We have added QuickPosts, which enables our readers to keep coming back throughout the day instead of having each day consists of a morning opinion piece, a game thread and ending with game recap. A reader used to be able to come just once a day for fresh, unknown content in the morning and then not return. That needed to change.
  • We also, as writers, needed to get more involved in the community. Readers need to feel like they are being heard, and writers need to converse with readers to build community, rapport and get ideas. Since I started being more heavily involved in responding to comments, I have found it easier to have the blog topic ideas come. Not only that, the readers have responded by leaving more comments, which is, after all, the idea.
  • We have added trivia posts that enable more comments to be left that also give readers an ability to “compete” and win “prizes” such as naming the next poll topic, the next trivia question, writing game notes, picking article ideas… the list goes on. This facilitates involvement and gives the reader a sense of inclusion. Speaking of inclusion…
  • When Fire Brand moves to its own layout, I am looking to implement diaries, something that SB Nation has done very well. As a matter of fact, MVN 3.0 is taking the concept of diaries and pushing it one (or two, or three) step further. However, that’s a network-wide concept. For a singular blog concept, diaries works very well, and I look forward to readers having the ability to submit their own articles to Fire Brand for engagement and discourse therein.

5. Intercede to minimize objectionable content

This is a little too similar to No. 3 for me, so I’m going to change it. Besides, there’s one other key point to independent media that I don’t think newspapers grasp because they are, after all, mainstream media.

5. Provide fresh, original content not found elsewhere.

Why is Fire Brand considered one of the best Red Sox blogs out there; a blog that Peter Gammons says club officials of the Sox read? Easy: it’s an original voice that you can’t find anywhere else. Same for Surviving Grady. There is a clear flavor to the posts; a clear topic delineation, a sense of consistency in how often there are updates and what those updates are. If you’re in the mood for opinionated, analytical Sox talk, you head to Fire Brand. If you want to find the humor in the Sox and perhaps rant obscenely as well, you head to Surviving Grady. (This is not a knock on SG — it is an absolutely fantastic site, and since more people love ranting, there’s a reason why it gets hundreds of comments per post.)

The key is that you can’t find this content elsewhere. Definitely not SG. Could you find Fire Brand content elsewhere? There have been blogs that try to, but they haven’t quite matched up to daily, informed takes on the team. The closest is probably the Boston Globe with their daily coverage, but they don’t delve into strict opinion/analysis — a newspaper relies on just facts, remember? No, the reason why both sites are so popular is because they update consistently with a singular voice and engaging content.

Mainstream media just needs to outspend and outproduce other media outlets to be declared the victor. It needs quality reporters, quality editors and a good marketing budget. Those media outlets win. With independent media, quality writing is of course, integral. A good marketing budget sure helps, too… but the end all be all?

Any independent site is destined to fail unless it doesn’t provide fresh, original content found elsewhere. Find your voice and deliver it consistently. The audience will find it.